Bixby awoke with a start. He had been dreaming again. His stepmother had taught him to remember his dreams and record them; she said that dreams carried messages and told of the future. Dutifully he picked up his journal and turned a blank page to the moonlight streaming in the window. His stepmother insisted that he include every detail of his dreams. “You never know what will turn out to be important,” she would say. She was renowned far and wide for her knowledge of magic.
Bixby thought back over the dream. It was one he’d been having often lately. There wasn’t much conversation to speak of except for things like “Oh! Oooooooh! Yes! Yes! YES!” but he remembered the elf-maiden vividly. Not her face, so much, but the way her elf-hair cascaded over her smooth elf-shoulders, the softness of her generous elf-breasts as they defied gravity, her narrow elf-waist… Bixby set to work sketching what he had seen in his dream. He didn’t know much about dreams, but he was really hoping this one would come true.
Over the years Bixby had demonstrated a flair for sketching and drawing. His mother had always encouraged him, and if anything his stepmother was even more enthusiastic. He was uncomfortable sometimes sharing his drawings with his stepmother, but she always just shushed him. “This is important,” she would say. “Don’t be such a baby. Now, think carefully. Are you sure there weren’t two elf maidens?”
Suddenly the moonlight was broken by a shadow. He turned and was looking into a pair of beady black eyes. The squirrel regarded him, unblinking. “We know you have it,” the squirrel said. The squirrel grinned. “And we’re gonna get it.”
In shock Bixby jumped up and turned to face the creature. Had it just spoken? Was he still dreaming one of those dreams where you dream you wake up but really you’re dreaming and then you wake up and you’re confused because you didn’t think you were dreaming before? He shook his head to clear the cobwebs.
“Honey, are you all right?” came his stepmother’s voice from the doorway behind him. “I heard a noise.”
“Um, I’m fine, ma.” Sure, fine. Talking squirrels. No big deal. It must have been a dream.
“Oh, I see you’ve had another of those dreams,” she said.
Not a dream, a nightmare. He turned away from her, back toward the window desperately trying to find a way to disguise the bulge in his pyjamas gracefully. The squirrel was gone.
Bixby did not get any more sleep that night. His stepmother had wanted to sit next to him on the bed and hear about his dream right then, but he had finally managed to put her off. Between getting caught by her in that condition and the talking squirrel, he was a wreck. At first light he decided to chop some wood to work off some of his tension. Ax in hand he was stepping out the door when his stepmother stopped him. “I think we have enough wood already, Honey,” she said.
“Can’t be too safe,” Bixby said. “Winter’s only a few months away.” He dashed for the forest. It was a longer dash than it had been; Bixby had transformed the small meadow that held the cottage into a much larger clearing, dotted with the stumps of the trees he had felled and chopped into firewood. He found a stout oak and set to work with the ax. Once the tree was down he hauled it over to the woodpile. It was much easier for him to move the trunks around these days; his constant chopping had caused his body to bulge with hard, lean muscle even as he grew into his tall frame.
He split up the log in record time, climbing the tiers of ladders to reach the top of the towering woodpile where he put the new logs. He could see all the way into town from up there, high above the treetops, and he imagined them laughing and pointing his direction, mocking his mighty accomplishment. “Just wait till winter comes,” he muttered. The exercise did the trick, though. He felt much calmer. He would be able to face his stepmother now, as long as she didn’t say anything that made him think… those thoughts.
He was surprised to find the tall, thin man waiting for him at the bottom of the last ladder. People mocked Graybeard, but never to his face. He wore the long flowing robes of a man who doesn’t have to work for a living, and the tall conical hat of a wizard.
“Hullo, Graybeard,” Bixby said.
“Hello there, young man. I have something very important to discuss with you. Is there somewhere we can go where they can’t hear us?
“The squirrels. I see you’ve done your best to eliminate their hiding places near your house, but they can be sneaky.” The wizard looked around and lowered his voice. “I need you to do something for me. There’s a thing, see, that I need you to go find.”
“What sort of thing?”
“Shhh!” Graybeard glanced nervously at the woodpile and steered Bixby away from it. “It’s an important thing. I’m putting together a team of experts.”
“I’m not expert at anything,” Bixby protested.
“Can you chop heads as well as you can chop wood?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“There you go then. The others are gathering in a rough tavern in a rough town many leagues from here. The journey will be very dangerous, as the squirrels and their evil minions will hound you every step of the way. Keep your crackers sealed tightly.”
“Why should I go, then?”
“Oh, there you are,” his stepmother said. “Oooh, you’re all sweaty. Rarrr,”
“When do we start?” asked Bixby.